TORONTO — Critics accused the Ontario government Wednesday of undermining local democracy in light of the province's proposal to scrap ranked-ballot voting in the next civic election.
Opposition legislators said the proposed change, which was introduced a day earlier as part of a broader bill on COVID-19 relief, is just another provincial attempt to meddle in municipal decision-making.
"Clearly not a single municipality asked for this change to be made," New Democrat Peggy Sattler said in the legislature in questioning the decision and its timing.
Liberal legislator Mitzie Hunter said the proposal would take away the power of municipalities to decide how they elect their leaders.
"Citizens do not need their premier to dictate how they choose their own local leaders," she said in a statement.
Hunter noted it's the second time the current government has interfered in municipal elections, pointing to the province's decision to unilaterally cut the size of Toronto's city council just months before the 2018 vote.
Premier Doug Ford, who was elected leader of the Progressive Conservatives using ranked balloting, defended the decision to uphold the current system, saying it would prevent voter confusion.
"We don't need any more complications on ranked ballots, we're just going to do the same way we've been doing since 1867: first-past-the-post," he said during an afternoon news conference Wednesday.
The Progressive Conservatives also argued the proposal will save municipal resources that would be better spent tackling the ongoing pandemic.
Tory legislator Paul Calandra said the government believes now is not the time to invest taxpayers' money into studying and possibly implementing a new voting system.
The City of London was the first municipality in Ontario to use ranked balloting in the 2018 civic election.
The province's plan to preclude such voting in the next election was denounced by several of the city's councillors, including one who launched a petition in support of keeping ranked ballots.
"It is clear that this move is really about stopping electoral reform from spreading," reads the petition posted on Coun. Jesse Helmer's website.
London's mayor, Ed Holder, said the city was not consulted on the decision, but was told about it Tuesday morning before the bill was introduced in the legislature.
"Am I disappointed? Yeah, I would have preferred to have had a conversation in advance about the potential for this," he said Wednesday.
While he can't say whether one system is better than the other, Holder said he liked the ranked ballot approach and the fact that the city was the first to take that step.
The mayor said he has not yet heard from residents how they feel about reverting back to first-past-the-post voting, nor has the city had time to calculate any potential costs associated with the change.
Other local governments have also looked into making the switch to ranked ballots.
A referendum on the issue in Kingston, Ont., in 2018 received support from more than 60 per cent of participating voters.
Toronto has also considered introducing a ranked ballot system for the 2022 municipal election.
The ranked ballot system lets voters rank candidates instead of voting for a single person.
Voters rank their first, second and third choices, and if no candidate receives an absolute majority on the first ballot, the last-place candidate is eliminated and his or her supporters’ second-choice votes are counted. That continues until one candidate receives more than 50 per cent.
In the current widely used first-past-the-post voting system, the candidate who receives the most votes wins — regardless of whether they’re supported by more than 50 per cent of voters.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 21, 2020.
Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press